READY FOR MOTOWN!
- By Ken Werther
- Photos By Joan Marcus
Get Ready Los Angeles! Here comes Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, Tammi Terrell, Edwin Starr, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson Five… all on the same stage! MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is the true story of the legendary sound that first hit the airwaves in 1959 and went on to change American culture forever. The National Tour of this smash hit Broadway show hits the Pantages Theatre this month and charts Motown founder Berry Gordy’s incredible journey from featherweight boxer to heavyweight music mogul.
MOTOWN THE MUSICAL tells the true American Dream story behind the hits as the Motown stable of stars fought against the odds, shattered barriers, and shaped our lives. The critics have called the show “stunning,” “jubilant,” “exhilarating,” “thrilling,” “irresistible,” “electrifying,” and “a blockbuster.” Time Out New York raved, “It sets the theatre on fire!” How else could you possibly describe a theatre experience that highlights such legendary songs as “My Girl,” “Where Did Our Love Go,” “War,” “What’s Going On,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “I Want You Back,” “Stop! In The Name of Love,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Get Ready,” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough?!” The show is jam packed with 40 in all. Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL is based on Berry Gordy’s book “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown.” Opening on Broadway on April 14, 2013, MOTOWN THE MUSICAL played 738 performances before closing in January of this year.
Motown (the record company) was founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. on January 12, 1959, in Detroit, Michigan. During the 1960s, Motown and its subsidiary labels (including Tamla, Gordy, and Soul) were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, a style of soul music with a distinct pop influence. Motown achieved spectacular success for a small record company — 79 records in the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100 record chart between 1960 and 1969. Having coined the slogan The Sound of Young America, Motown’s acts enjoyed widespread popularity among black and white audiences alike. Of Motown’s cultural impact, the legendary Smokey Robinson said, “Into the ’60s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized it because I lived it. I would go to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands.”
Through the years, a virtual treasure trove of artists have recorded for Motown. In addition to the acts already mentioned here, they include Mary Wells, Jr. Walker & The All Stars, The Spinners, Jimmy Ruffin, Shorty Long, The Originals, Rare Earth, Lionel Richie, The Commodores, Brian McKnight, Erykah Badu, DeBarge, Rick James, Teena Marie, The Dazz Band, Boyz II Men. The list goes on, and on, and on.
My favorite personal Motown memory — I saw Diana Ross and the Supremes in 1969 during their farewell tour. The group had become Motown’s most successful act and is to this day America’s most successful vocal group as well as one of the world’s best-selling girl groups of all time. I paid $5.50 for my ticket, and the opening act was Stevie Wonder! The following week, at the same venue, The Temptations headlined and the opening act was Gladys Knight and the Pips! Admission was the same $5.50, but I decided not to spend the money. What could I have been thinking?! The Sound of Young America is alive and well in MOTOWN THE MUSICAL.